Jessie Lloyd’s acclaimed Mission Songs Project is taking a major step towards becoming an established part of the Australian folk songbook, with the launch of the Mission Songs Project Choir Songbook.
In an inspired collaboration between Jessie and Melbourne’s renowned Boîte Millennium Chorus, the rare secular songs that were once performed on Aboriginal missions have been arranged for choirs and will be sung by a mass choir of 200 voices at the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 12 August at 2.30pm.
Directed by Indigenous opera singer and musician, Jessica Hitchcock (Short Black Opera, Kate Miller-Heidke band) and accompanied by professional musicians, the choir will perform the incredibly moving songs of loss, love and longing that have been recently re-discovered by Jessie Lloyd in her field research, family conversations, and musical touring.
Reaching back to the early 1900s, the songs chronicle Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life on the missions to which they were removed, after being forcibly taken from their families. And although profound grief and loss lie beneath many of the songs, the lyrics, melodies and instrumentation are universally uplifting, and many are tinged with dry humour.
These unique songs consist of almost-forgotten stories that shed light into the history of our Indigenous elders, families and communities, and explore day-to-day life in the missions. They include Own Native Land, written by Jessie’s Grandfather Albie Geia, which is a plea to end his slavery and have his land returned; Down In The Kitchen by Jessie’s Grandmother Alma Geia, a wry statement on the parlous state of mission food; and the famous war-time song Now Is The Hour, known also as the Maori farewell, adapted and given more spiritual lyrics on the missions.
The beautifully-illustrated 80-page songbook includes sheet music, chords, lyrics and arrangements for vocal parts in soprano, alto, tenor and bass and lead vocal, as well as the story behind each song. It promises to become a valuable resource for choir leaders, schools, musicologists, musicians and people wishing to learn more about the lives of Indigenous Australians and the songs they sang.
Boîte Director, Roger King OAM, said the Boîte was thrilled to be working with Jessie and her Mission Songs Project, and helping to share these culturally-significant songs with a wider audience.
“We’re honoured to be partnering with Jessie to produce the first Mission Songs Project Choir Songbook, and launch it through these special concerts,” he said. “We have our 200-voice adult choir performing at the Melbourne Town Hall, as well as Schools Chorus concerts in Melbourne, Ballarat and Albury; this is our most extensive concert program to date, and one that we hope will resonate with all our audiences.”
In addition to the one-off Millennium Chorus concert on August 12, the Boîte Schools Chorus of 1,000 school children across Victoria will perform the Mission Songs at five separate concerts in Melbourne, Ballarat and Albury/Wodonga.
About the Boîte Millennium Chorus
The Boîte Millennium Chorus started in 1999 as a one-off major celebration to usher in the 2000s and highlight the work of The Boîte in bringing culturally diverse music and musicians to Australian audiences. It was so successful, and the audience response so overwhelmingly positive, that The Boîte arranged another concert the following year. Since then the choir has grown to become the most popular, anticipated and well-attended concert in The Boîte’s packed world music event calendar.
The Chorus is a major community engagement project that creates opportunities for Victorian singers and audiences of all ages to participate in a large-scale arts event. The project is socially inclusive and accessible to people of all genders, ethnicities and abilities. The regional choir program ensures that singers from across the state can learn repertoire, engage with other cultures within Melbourne’s community and from across the world, as well as perform in a grand concert at a prestigious venue. It addresses the human need to participate in the arts and storytelling, celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity, and supports the wealth of musical talent in our community.
The Boîte Millennium Chorus is supported by Creative Victoria.
About the Boîte Schools Chorus
The Boîte Schools Chorus is a unique non-auditioned choir project for schools and community youth choirs, and is one of the only non-competitive inter-school activities that school children can participate in. It invites students into a new world through song, builds confidence, broadens horizons and develops valuable performance and interpersonal skills. Since 2004, the Boite Schools Chorus has involved over 9200 students from across Victoria in 42 concerts in Melbourne, Frankston, Ballarat, Bairnsdale and Albury. Each year the chorus focuses on a different cultural theme, which has included Africa, Pacific Islands, Seychelles, East Timor, South America and Indigenous Australia.
Jessica Hitchcock (Choir director)
Melbourne-based, with family origins from Saibai in the Torres Straits and Papua New Guinea, singer/songwriter Jessica Hitchcock is an up-and-coming Indigenous singer, musician, composer and director.
Jessica transitioned from a jazz background into the world of opera, when she joined Deborah Cheetham’s Short Black Opera Company as an artist and teacher. This led to the opportunity to sing a lead role in Opera Australia’s production of The Rabbits, for which she was awarded a prestigious Green Room Award for Best Female in a supporting role in 2016.
The role of ‘Alice’ in Pecan Summer was her debut professional opera production, for which she won a Broadway World award for best supporting actress in an opera, at the Sydney Opera House in 2017.
She sang on Jessie Lloyd’s acclaimed Mission Songs Project album, and has since performed at major festivals and concerts around Australia as one of the main vocalists for this project. Jessica has also recently been touring as Kate Miller-Heidke’s backing vocalist and pianist, and recently released a book of Indigenous Children’s choral music with Deborah Cheetham OA and Short Black Opera.
Jessie Lloyd (Artistic Director)
Originally from the tropics of North Queensland, Jessie Lloyd is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musician, composer, band leader, producer, director, curator and musicologist.
She is a cultural practitioner of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music, and is dedicated to the continuation of cultural traditions through the presentation of contemporary and traditional Indigenous music.
From the Bass Strait to the Torres Strait and across the Arafura Sea, Jessie has travelled Australia and spent time with senior song men and women, uncovering precious stories and songs from the mission days.
Jessie launched the Mission Songs Project CD and concerts in 2017 to widespread acclaim. Her extensive research, musical training and family connections (her father is music pioneer, Joe Geia), as well as her Indigenous background, made her uniquely placed to uncover a precious part of our history: secular songs that were sung after church, and that explore the day to day life of the mission days across Australia, from cultural identity to love and loss. These unique songs consist of almost forgotten stories that now shed light into the history of our Indigenous elders, families and communities.
Roger King OAM (Boite Director)
From his childhood in South Africa to working as an engineer in Malaysia and on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Project among a diverse multicultural workforce, Roger developed a deep and abiding interest in different cultures. He has a profound respect for the wisdom and generosity of peoples in humble circumstances, and a lifelong passion for music from all corners of the world.
In 1984, he and his partner, Therese Virtue, began coordinating The Boîte, a pioneering multicultural arts organisation that celebrates and supports cultural diversity through music. The Boîte has forged meaningful relationships with countless musicians, artists, dancers, writers and storytellers; presented thousands of events, from concerts in Hamer Hall to street songs in the back lanes of Fitzroy; and encouraged people of all ages to attend concerts, join choirs and participate in musical and vocal workshops. The Boîte facilitates creative spaces for people from many different communities, including artists who have been forced to flee from their homeland, offering friendship and support.
In 1999 Roger and Therese worked with choir director Melanie Shanahan to create the inaugural Boîte Melbourne Millennium Chorus. The concert received rave reviews and has since been the organisation’s premier annual event.
Roger is also a keen singer, performing with Gorani, a 10-voice men’s ensemble specialising in traditional village songs from Georgia and Bulgaria and appearing on national radio and TV in Georgia, Bulgaria and Australia.
In 2006, Roger and Therese were each awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, Roger for service to the community as a director and instigator of multicultural music events, and Therese for service to the community as a manager and presenter of multicultural music and media programs.
Mission Songs Project background
Jessie Lloyd’s profoundly moving and important Mission Songs Project reveals what daily life was like for Indigenous Australians on Christian missions and state-run settlements. Through the discovery of rare secular songs that were sung after church, audiences can gain a deeper understanding about the history of elders, families and communities, from cultural identity to love and loss.
Mission Songs Project is an initiative to revive contemporary Australian Indigenous songs from 1900 to 1999, focusing on the Christian missions, state run settlements and native camps where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were relocated.
Searching for the secular songs that were sung after church, Mission Songs Project looks to explore the day to day life of the mission days, from cultural identity to love and loss. These unique songs consist of almost forgotten stories that can now shed light into the history of our Indigenous elders, families and communities.
Mission Songs Project faithfully explores the musical journey of Indigenous Australian music as Jessie Lloyd connects the traditional with contemporary, revealing the continuation of cultural practice and song traditions into the 21st Century.
An award winning composer, performer and creative entrepreneur, Jessie Lloyd is a cultural practitioner of Indigenous music and song. Dedicated to the continuation of story and song through the performance of Indigenous music, Jessie has travelled Australia in search of hidden songs to present this rare and unique Indigenous narrative.